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Not too far away to help others in need

This past summer, I went on a mission trip with my church. We traveled to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to help with the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. It was a rewarding experience, for not only did we work hard nailing, doing roofing, cleaning, painting and helping with yard work, but we got to meet some truly amazing people who are just beginning to get their lives back together.

When I tell people I went to Mississippi for a mission trip, some stare at me blankly and ask me, 'Why?' Hurricane Katrina is a distant memory to them, long ago resolved. They have managed to convince themselves that the problem has simply vanished.

It hasn't.

I saw the devastation at the very church we stayed at. Across the street was an abandoned hotel, with ivy crawling all through the cracked windows. Next to it sat a pile of dirt, with a broken dishwasher dumped on top. At the end of the street was the ocean.

Walking along the beach, you'd encounter TVs, dead fish, electrical cords and the foundations of houses instead of seashells. We wern't even allowed to swim in the ocean because it was so littered with garbage.

I saw houses completely without the bottom floor, with people still living in them. They had stairs leading to a door on the second floor, where they have lived since the hurricane and the water hadn't reached to. And most of the people we helped were the lucky ones.

I admit, it was hard to grasp the devastation until I actually experienced it. But now that I have experienced it, it's hard to imagine people being ignorant of it. In our world today, it is so easy to ignore suffering, even in our own country. We have this amazing ability to not be affected at all, because our lives can function normally while catastrophe occurs not far away. Homework is still due, businesses are still open, life goes on.

While this is not all bad - our country is strong enough to withstand these earthly horrors without falling to pieces - it makes people forget.

And forgetting is bad.

The good thing is, many teens are becoming more aware of the problems in our world and are willing to do something about it. This doesn't just apply to Hurricane Katrina.

Aside from my mission trip, I know many teens that helped in Mexico, Honduras and even in Cambodia. It is becoming more evident to us that there is something we can do; we can have a positive impact even if it's in a small way.

Just by visiting these places, we can bring awareness to our communities and get more done. Don't be content with your own life and leave it at that. Get involved and do something.

Kelsey Figone is a junior at West Linn High School and a Tidings student columnist for the 2006-07 school year.